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A high-ranking public defender has sued the Defender Association of Philadelphia, claiming its leader demoted and chastised him for pointing out that a fellow attorney in the organization was representing hundreds of children without a law license.

Christopher Welsh, deputy defender of practice operations and systems development, filed suit in federal court alleging Chief Defender Keir Bradford-Grey lashed out at him for rooting out the attorney with the suspended license. Welsh said in his complaint that the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts had specifically tasked him with ensuring that all of the attorneys in his organization had active law licenses.

Welsh, a 12-year veteran of the office, claimed in the complaint that the alleged verbal abuse he took from Bradford-Grey, along with being placed on a performance improvement plan, caused him enough anxiety to take medical leave. Additionally, he claimed that he was demoted in retaliation the day he returned from leave.

According to Welsh’s complaint, alleging violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, Bradford-Grey told him that he couldn’t be trusted and was no longer a part of the team. The complaint also alleged Bradford-Grey told him, “You better hope no one goes poking around the skeletons in your closet.”

Reached for comment Monday, Bradford-Grey pointed to the association’s response filed that same day.

The Defender Association’s answer to the complaint said that the attorney Welsh outed as practicing without a license had been on leave and was suspended because he forgot to pay his annual dues. The attorney returned to work without knowing he was suspended, the answer said. The association claimed Bradford-Grey and First Assistant Defender James McHugh noticed Welsh appeared agitated when reporting the discovery, and pressed for criminal charges to be filed against the lawyer in question.

According to the answer, the suspended attorney was put on administrative suspension by the association and told to self-report to the state Supreme Court’s Disciplinary Board. The association also conducted a full review of all of its attorneys to ensure they had valid licenses as well as implemented new standards to ensure licenses are kept up to date, court papers said.

The association also claimed that Bradford-Grey put Welsh on an improvement plan because he was having problems handling the responsibilities of his role, which she promoted him to in 2016.

“The association, Ms. Bradford-Grey, and Mr. McHugh have always treated plaintiff with dignity and respect,” the answer said. “They have given him every opportunity to succeed within the organization, and have put him in a position to make a lasting impact on the community by placing him in an executive leadership role. The association unequivocally denies his allegations that it violated the FMLA or the PAWBL.”